Ash & Elm Cider Co.

Rooted in Tradition. Crafted for Today.

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The Flow of Culture

We have a guest blogger today - our fantastic Assistant Cidermaker, Joseph Kilbourn. Take it away, Joseph!


As a citizen of our fine modern city and the world, I regularly think about what defines culture. Culture is often a mix of blending current trends with unique ideas. Beyond society at large, a good share of personal culture is explained through stories and myths. I accepted the job of Assistant Cidermaker at Ash & Elm because of how the company has blended both sides of culture within its business plan and its story. It's summed up in the slogan, "Rooted in Tradition, Crafted for Today" and it shows in our first two limited edition releases, the Oaked Imperial Headlong and Del Camino tepache.

Microbrewers Festival lineup.

Microbrewers Festival lineup.

The Oaked Imperial Headlong debuts during the VIP hour at the 21st Annual Indiana Microbrewers Festival as an homage to the craft beer scene. I would've never pursued cider making without the influence and culture of craft beer -- where you can always try something new, and you can even try your own hand at homebrewing with loads of support from a community of artisans. And now craft cider has a chance to take off in Indy because of road paved by microbrewers. With nods to some of our brewing heros, like the intensely Citra-hopped 3 Floyds Zombie Dust and fond memories of enjoying a Tequila Barrel-Aged Fistful of Hops from Sun King, we oak-aged and tripled the Citra hops in our dry-hopped house cider, Headlong.

To stand up to the quantity of hops and smooth vanilla notes of french oak, we bumped up the ABV by blending it with an Ice Cider made with fresh cider from Tuttle Orchards in Greenfield, IN. The Ice Cider style was invented in Quebec and uses cryoconcentration to remove some of the water from the apple juice before fermentation. After our careful blending, we arrived at a subtle yet powerful ABV of 9.2% for the Oaked Imperial Headlong, which we offer as a sincere 'thank you' to everyone who has created a culture of craft in Indiana.

At the other end of the cultural spectrum, we created Del Camino based on a drink of culture that my wife, Jennifer Delgadillo and I had while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico last year. Jennifer and I had just visited a traditional family textile business in the smaller village of Teotitlan del Valle where they loom fabrics from scratch on their goat farm. As we traveled back to Santa Lucia Del Camino, we saw a vendor selling a drink from a barrel by the side of the road and pulled over to try some. It was a homemade traditional tepache with pineapple rinds floating in it and bees swarming around it. My wife's cousin who lived there said that you know it's good when the bees want it. The vendor garnished the rim of our cups with a chili powder, salt and lime mixture and skimmed a few bees out for us. While we rode in the back seat of the car, we enjoyed the tangy fermented pineapple tepache. It was bursting with the flavors of piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar with notes of molasses), tamarind (a tart and sweet plant used in many Mexican candies that are coated with chilli powder and salt), and some hints of other spices.

Authentic Mexican tepache from Oaxaca.

Authentic Mexican tepache from Oaxaca.

Aaron and I recreated this experience as closely as any Hoosier could with a wild-fermented pineapple cider sweetened with piloncillo and Mexican spices. It came out just as tangy and sweet as the original (bees not included) with an ABV of 3.2% that makes it refreshing to drink on a hot summer's day. Ours also comes with the option to garnish it with a dash of adobo/cayenne chili powder, dried tamarind, lime and salt for an extra kick. I can't wait to see how Jennifer thinks Del Camino compares to the tepache we had from the street when it debuts as a refreshing treat for the patrons of the Microbrewers Festival.

Things get a little crazy around here sometimes...

Things get a little crazy around here sometimes...

So as Ash and Elm endeavors to become ingrained in the cultural landscape of Indianapolis, we will continue to convert our own cultural experiences into drinkable form so you can taste the ancient, growing, and fresh culture that flows through us.

Stay tuned for information about a special release of both the Del Camino and Oaked Imperial Headlong in our tasting room in the coming weeks.

From 'Opening' to 'Open'

Guys, we did it! We opened a cidery and it only took us 2.5 years!

Now that we’re open, our focus has changed from fundraising, seeking legal counsel, location hunting, permitting, and general contracting to managing daily operations. These are the things we’re focusing our energy on these days:

1.       Staffing. Up until May of this year, we were a pretty lean operation of me (Andrea) keeping everything moving and Aaron helping out with production and overall business decisions on nights and weekends. In May we hired our first employee, Joseph, as an Assistant Cider Maker. He put in long hours leading up to our opening to make sure we had cider ready, kegs were cleaned of all the little tiny rust spots that settled in from unloading them in the rain and not wiping them off (my bad), and improving the efficiency of the production process. Then we hired Melissa to run our tasting room and kitchen, who helped create our menu, made sure we had everything we needed to run a retail storefront, and taught me about standard serving practices. Finally, we hired Wes to make sure every customer is treated well in the tasting room and to turn visitors into regulars.

My job has changed from creating job descriptions and making hiring decisions to worrying about whether our employees like their jobs, are getting enough hours, and are as excited about the future of Ash & Elm as we are. For the record, I’m pretty sure we lucked out with each of them, but I still spend a lot of time thinking about how to make sure they are all getting out of Ash & Elm what they hoped to when they signed on to this crazy ride.

The whole team! From left to right: Joseph, Wes, Aaron, Andrea, and Melissa

The whole team! From left to right: Joseph, Wes, Aaron, Andrea, and Melissa

2.       Distribution. A lot of folks have asked when they can get our cider from bars and restaurants. Of course, there’s a short and a long answer. The short: ‘Soon, hopefully!’ The long: The state alcohol permit we need to make and sell cider (a Farm Winery permit, for those interested) doesn’t allow self-distribution. Which means I could have bars and restaurants with checks in hand waiting to put our cider on tap, but legally I can’t sell it to them. Instead, I have to sell the cider to a distributor, who would then sell it to the bar.

Fun fact! Our tasting room is on the ground floor of a three story building, and our Farm Winery permit only covers the first floor. If one of the businesses operating on the top two floors wanted cider, we would have to sell it to a distributor, who would then have to drive 10 miles away to their warehouse, who would then have to load it back up and bring it back to our building to sell to the top floor. Silly laws.

We have had meetings with multiple distributors, and our goal is to have that relationship lined up and going by the end of summer. Hang tight, we’ll get there, and we’ll make sure you all know about it!

3.       Getting the word out. Our tasting room has been open for three weeks now. A lot of my focus is shifting to marketing, sales, and promotions. In the short term, that will happen via events in the tasting room and participation in festivals throughout the city. Longer term, that means pounding the pavement to get bars and restaurants to buy into our product (see #2 on why that hasn’t happened yet). New menu options, seasonal ciders, consistency, and sponsorships/partnerships are always on my mind as avenues to explore as we grow our business.

Our first big event is Ciderside Chats! Head over to the event page by clicking on the photo.

Our first big event is Ciderside Chats! Head over to the event page by clicking on the photo.

4.       Data Crunching. If you know Aaron and me, you know that we both LOOOOOVVVEEE data and Excel. Fun fact #2! Aaron is an electrical engineer, and I have a Master’s in Public Health with a concentration in epidemiology, so using data to predict the future gets us more excited than it really should. Anyway, now that we actually have tasting room sales and numbers, we can start crunching data. How much on average does a person spend in the tasting room? How many ounces of cider does the average customer drink, and how much does that increase if the customer also orders food? Which ciders are selling the best, and given sales in our first month, can we predict what our annual sales might be? When does it make sense to add another employee?

Truly, it is so nice to be open after such a long time. Transitioning from ‘starting’ to ‘managing’ has been invigorating. Thanks for joining us for the start-up phase of the business, and I hope you continue to enjoy the ride!

Brew-Ha-Ha Festival

Last month, we had the opportunity to share our cider at the 20th annual Brew-Ha-Ha Festival. Tied with the Indiana Microbrewer’s Festival for the longest-running beer festival in the state, Brew-Ha-Ha is a fundraiser put on every year to support the programming at the Phoenix Theater. We were really thankful that they let us be a part of their event before we were even open!

One of the benefits of having a name that starts with an 'A'.

One of the benefits of having a name that starts with an 'A'.

We had done several events prior to Brew-Ha-Ha, including another fundraiser, an opening gala, and a few weddings, but this was by far the largest (and most knowledgeable!) audience our cider had ever had. It was important to us that we came off well especially since so many other great breweries would be mere steps away.

After spending some time thinking about what ciders would be the best to bring to a beer festival, we settled on bringing six!

BHH Lineup 1
BHH Lineup2

On the day of the festival, we loaded up our compact car to the gills with cider, signage, our jockey box, a CO2 tank, and a couple coolers and drove the mile to the festival.

Overall, we had a great time and were able to talk with so many people who were excited to hear about a new cidery coming to Indianapolis. Some of the highlights included convincing die-hard beer fans to try a craft cider for the first time and hearing them say, “Hey, this is actually pretty good.” On the other range of the spectrum, it was also great to find out just how many people have been looking for a way to get more cider and who loved ours. We had a woman from France who said she’d been looking for a good cider to drink in the States for years and had finally found it in our Dry cider, and we had other people who came back multiple times in an effort to get a taste of the pumpkin cider, which we didn’t tap until halfway through the day. Another great part of the day was sharing cider with several bar and restaurant managers who expressed interest in carrying our ciders at their location in the future.

Aaron BHH

Thanks to the handful of a friends and family who helped us serve that day, and thanks to the Phoenix Theater for a great event. We hope to be a part of it next year and for many years moving forward.

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